Staying strong in difficult times

Students can take these steps to keep on an even keel amid the turbulence.

This is a strange time to be a student. One day you’re sitting in class, dreaming of your future, and the next day you’re stuck at home indefinitely as a deadly virus sweeps through the nation. As you close the door on an extraordinary academic year and try to plan for an uncertain fall semester, these insights can help you remain resilient and focused even in very trying times.

Stick with your routine. If you find yourself sinking deeper into the couch every day, take some steps to maintain your mental and physical health and energy. For example, go to bed and get up at set times, eat healthily at your regular mealtimes, maintain personal hygiene, and keep up or start an exercise routine. No matter how frustrated or stressed you feel, avoid bingeing on junk food or overindulging in alcohol.

Don’t give up on fun. You’ve gone from seeing friends and classmates all the time to wondering if it’s OK to leave the house. To keep your spirits up, the nonprofit Active Minds recommends staying connected through virtual lunches, dinners, coffee hours, trivia nights, group Netflix screenings, Instagram story games, TikTok faceoffs, and Bob Ross virtual paint nights. You can find a range of resources for students on the Active Minds site.

That unexplainable feeling? It may be grief. You know that people grieve when someone dies, but grief can also show up at the loss of normal life and upended plans. Give yourself permission to experience grief for all that you’re missing and to feel upbeat on one day and sad or cranky on another, said Barry Schreier, Ph.D., director of the University Counseling Service and professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “Grief will express itself whether you allow it to or not,” he said, so it’s best to acknowledge it.

Assert control where you can. If you find yourself cleaning your kitchen repeatedly or reorganizing your bookcase, there may be a good reason. “There’s no denying that this is a time of feeling terribly out of control,” Schreier said, which can cause stress and anxiety. While you can’t control the virus or its impact on the world, making your own space orderly and pleasant can help you feel you’ve retaken charge of at least some parts of your life. 

Let your goals inspire you. The prospect of a starting a recession-proof career in accounting kept Grensy Quintero, CPA, motivated in college despite many obstacles. Quintero, who immigrated to the United States from Cuba when she was 19, often had to get by on four hours of sleep and couldn’t always afford meals while she was working to pay for school. “But I wasn’t leaving without that piece of paper,” she said, referring not only to her undergraduate and graduate degrees but also her CPA credential. Acknowledging positive steps helped, too. “I celebrated every good grade, every recognition, every small victory along the way,” she said. Today she is an international tax expert working for Moore Emerson GmbH in Zurich, Switzerland.

Make use of resources for students. The services of many college and university mental health centers remain available to students virtually or by phone, so reach out for help if you need it. In addition to counseling, centers may offer mental health workshops and self-help resources such as videos offering advice. Students may also be able to get in touch with academic advisers online for help with planning summer and fall terms.

Faced with an uncertain academic future, you may be questioning your next steps. However, “you should continue to pursue your short-term goals because the long-term is coming back,” Schreier said. No matter how much disruption the virus has caused, it’s best to stay the course until the tough times pass.

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at

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